A good horse race needs a solid but beatable frontrunner and a shifting field of entries who, with plausibility, can be said to be on his heels. I don’t know whether the race for the Democratic nomination features these things, but the mainstream media wants it to, and claims that it does.
Joe Biden, of course, is the frontrunner. The field of contenders held up by the media as plausible has included Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and, lately, Pete Buttigieg.
Bernie Sanders has been less hyped. Yet, he seems more plausible than the other three in some important ways. For one thing, last time out he ran virtually even with the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. For another, his standing in the polls has always exceeded that of Buttigieg, generally exceeded that of Harris (who quit the race), and approximated that of Warren.
The difficulty begins after these two contests. In 2016, Sanders faltered when states with lots of African-American voters held their primaries. This year, Biden seems to have a near lock on the African-American vote. And contrary to the expectations of many, Biden doesn’t seem to be fading.
To win the horse race, I think Sanders needs to becomes the near unanimous choice of the Democratic hard left. If that happens, and Biden continues to face credible opposition in the non-hard left lane, maybe Sanders can compete with Biden all the way to the wire.
I doubt that Sanders will be able to overwhelm Warren in the far left lane. Both candidates have natural constituencies in that lane. Sanders’s is blue collar leftists; Warren’s is left-wing feminists.
If Sanders has an edge over Warren among hard core leftists, it’s because he’s more genuine than she is. Warrren has a history of ties with corporate America, and her attempt to distance herself from megadonors by rejecting their contributions is undercut by the money she has on hand thanks to past donations.
By contrast, as the New York Times says of Sanders, “his anti-establishment message hasn’t changed for 50 years.”
If nothing else, Sanders can claim to be the choice of people who (1) haven’t learned anything in 50 years and (2) aren’t old enough to be knowledgeable about more than a handful of those years.
I don’t know whether there are enough of these folks for Sanders to be the Democratic nominee, but it looks like there are enough to keep him in reasonably serious contention.